Why Was Paul Manafort Fired?

In an attempt to sow outrage because the lifetime Republican Stefan Halper asked Carter Page and George Papadopoulos some questions, the frothy right is now focusing on why DOJ didn’t tell Donald Trump his campaign, the one that asked all manner of people to work for “free,” was infested with suspected foreign assets. They point to this passage in the GOP House Intelligence Report to suggest that if only DOJ had told Trump which of the suspected assets in his campaign they knew about, he would have fired them.

The Trump campaign did not receive a general counterintelligence briefing until August 2016, and even then, it was never specifically notified about Papadopoulos, Page, Manafort, or General Flynn’s Russia ties. 1o.; Further, the counterintelligence briefing provided to Trump and his top advisors did not identify any individuals by name, but rather focused on the general threat posed by adversaries, including Russia and China.

The suggestion that Trump would have fired these men is mostly without merit — after all, after President Obama gave Trump very specific warnings about Mike Flynn, Trump promoted him to oversee all of national security.

Moreover, these frothy defenders of individual liberty are effectively demanding that some kind of Nanny Running Mate do the vetting that — as the HPSCI report also admits — Trump never did.

While the Committee will not go into further detail on the charges against Manafort due to ongoing litigation concerns, Special Counsel Mueller’s indictment of Manafort illustrates the necessity for U.S. presidential campaigns to better investigate individuals who serve in senior positions within the campaign. If the accusations against Manafort are true, he should have never served as a senior official with a campaign for the U.S. presidency, much less campaign chairman or manager.

I mean, sure, DOJ could have done the vetting of Trump’s “free” staffers that the billionaire candidate refused to do, but it would have involved the kind of review of communications and balance sheets that Trump would call “Spying,” and it’d be much more intrusive “Spying” than asking lifetime GOP operative Halper to ask a few questions.

All that said, particularly giving how it took place the day after Trump’s first intelligence briefing on August 17, I am increasingly interested in the campaign’s decision to fire Paul Manafort. Here’s how the GOP House Intelligence Report spins it.

Then-campaign manager[Corey Lewandowski] testified that, when Manafort was hired, [redacted] made no attempt to vet him and was entirely unaware of Manafort’s past work in Ukraine.85 In May 2016, Manafort was promoted to campaign chairman and, after [Lewandowski] was fired the next month, “evolve[d]” into the role of de facto campaign manager.89

(U) Manafort left the campaign in August 2016 following news reports that he had received $12.7 million In secret payments for his work on behalf of Yanukovich’s Party of Regions; news reporting also alleged that Manafort and his aide Rick Gates had “directly orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation” on behalf of the party–while failing to register 90 as foreign agents. Campaign press secretary Hope Hicks recalled that, after receiving press inquiries about Manafort’s “professional history,” a major story broke91 on the evening of August 14, 2016. According to Hicks, “Trump had made a decision to make a change in leadership on the campaign outside of Paul’s issues that were being publicly reported,” but those issues “certainly contributed to expediting and intensifying the way in which his role changed, and then ultimately he was fired at the end of that week.”92 Trump directed his son-in-law Jared Kushner to ensure Manafort departed the campaign on August 19, which he did.93 As Kushner put it, ”[t]here was a lot of news that was out there and the decision was that it was time for him to resign.”

But here’s the story as told by Don Jr in his admittedly demonstrably false testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Q. And returning briefly to Mr. Manafort, what was your understanding of how Mr. Manafort ceased to be affiliated with the campaign?

A. I believe there was stuff coming out about Paul that he denied, but he didn’t want to drag any other aspects of that life into the campaign and the work that we were doing. So he removed himself from his position as campaign chairman.

Q. And did he discuss with you or, to the best of your knowledge, anyone else on the campaign his ties with Ukrainian business or Russian interests, his alleged ties?

A. No, not that I recall.

Now, these are not entirely inconsistent stories. In both versions, when Manafort’s ties to Yanukovych became a liability, he was ousted. Though if Manafort’s ties to Ukraine were the primary problem, then Rick Gates should have been ousted at the same time, and he not only remained on the campaign, but stayed on through the inauguration, helping Tom Barrack sell foreigners (including, but not limited to, wealthy Russians) inauguration access.

But, for starters, I find it absurd to suggest that Manafort was ousted because of allegations about his ties to Russia and Ukraine, but that he never spoke about that with the family. You might argue that Don Jr just remained ignorant of the details, but Trump’s spawn, including Don Jr., were instrumental in ousting Lewandowski and elevating Manafort in the first place, so I find it doubtful Manafort would in turn be ousted without their feedback. Indeed, Jared’s reported role in the firing makes it clear he, at least, was centrally involved.

So I find Junior’s claim that he didn’t discuss his Ukrainian and Russian ties just as dubious as these other answers.

Q. Are you aware of any ties, direct or indirect, past or present, between Mr. Manafort and the Russian government?

A. I’ve read that since, but I’m not aware of anything specific, no.

Q. Were you aware of Mr. Manafort’s relationship with and work on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych?

A. Again, I’ve heard that since, but not at the time, no.

[snip]

Q. Do you know Konstantin Kilimnik?

A. Not that I’m aware of.

Plus — something that always gets forgotten in this timeline — between the time the most damning NYT story came out, the time Trump got his first intelligence briefing on August 17 and the day Trump fired Manafort on August 19, he demoted him, also on August 17, putting Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway in charge.

Donald Trump, following weeks of gnawing agitation over his advisers’ attempts to temper his style, moved late Tuesday to overhaul his struggling campaign by rebuffing those efforts and elevating two longtime associates who have encouraged his combative populism.

Stephen Bannon, a former banker who runs the influential conservative outlet Breitbart News and is known for his fiercely anti-establishment politics, has been named the Trump campaign’s chief executive. Kellyanne Conway, a veteran Republican pollster who has been close to Trump for years, will assume the role of campaign manager.

[snip]

Trump issued a statement hours later. “I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” he said. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

[snip]

Trump’s stunning decision effectively ended the months-long push by campaign chairman Paul Manafort to moderate Trump’s presentation and pitch for the general election. And it sent a signal, perhaps more clearly than ever, that the real estate magnate intends to finish this race on his own terms, with friends who share his instincts at his side.

Manafort, a seasoned operative who joined the campaign in March, will remain in his role, but the advisers described his status internally as diminished due to Trump’s unhappiness and restlessness in recent weeks over his drop in the polls and reports over lagging organization in several key states. He told some friends that he was unsure if he was being given candid assessments of news stories and the campaign’s management.

While Trump respects Manafort, the aides said, he has grown to feel “boxed in” and “controlled” by people who barely know him. Moving forward, he plans to focus intensely on rousing his voters at rallies and through media appearances.

Even after the NYT black ledger story, Manafort was being portrayed as a moderating influence in Trump’s campaign. Reports about Manafort’s firing focus more on his treatment of Trump as a child than on his corruption. Even the NYT’s coverage of the firing, in the wake of their blockbuster black ledgers story, minimized the import of that on his ouster, waiting until the very last paragraphs of a long article to describe how the stories led to his loss of support among his kids, especially Jared.

At the same time, the new accounts of Mr. Manafort’s ties to Ukraine quickly eroded the support that he had from Mr. Trump’s family during his earlier battles with Mr. Lewandowski.

According to people briefed on the matter, Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, expressed increasing concern after a Times article published on Sunday about allegations of cash payments made to Mr. Manafort’s firm for his work on behalf of his main client, Viktor F. Yanukovych, the former Ukranian president, who is an ally of Mr. Putin.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has repeatedly sought to yoke Mr. Trump to Mr. Putin, citing Mr. Trump’s praise for the Russian leader. And the avalanche of stories about his work for pro-Russian entities in Ukraine were becoming untenable for the campaign, according to people briefed on the discussions.

“The easiest way for Trump to sidestep the whole Ukraine story is for Manafort not to be there,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who has become a counselor to Mr. Trump.

In North Carolina on Thursday, Mr. Trump was informed of the newest such report: an Associated Press article that, citing emails, showed that Mr. Manafort’s firm had orchestrated a pro-Ukrainian lobbying campaign in Washington without registering as a foreign agent.

That was enough, according to people briefed on the calls, for Mr. Trump to call Mr. Bannon and Ms. Conway.

I raise this for two reasons. First, retaining Gates while firing Manafort shows that the concern about Russian ties was only PR, at best. I admit when I first started writing this, I thought firing Manafort might have been a reaction against his willingness to chum up to Russia, possibly up to and including sharing information via Kilimnik with Oleg Deripaska. I believe that at various times in the Trump campaign, he tried to get out of the devil’s bargain he made with Russia, and entertained the possibility that firing Manafort was one of those efforts. But the retention of Gates makes that unlikely.

All that said, Don Jr’s explanation, like his father’s, are convenient post hoc justifications (though this Corey Lewandowski story, which relies on Steve Bannon’s, has the same emphasis).

Still, I find the coincidence of the decision to fire Manafort and that first briefing to be interesting. Did the warning that Russia was attempting to infiltrate his campaign make him more sensitive to Manafort’s burgeoning Russia scandal?

One way or another, I’d love to revisit the events of that week to measure how much Trump and Junior — as distinct from Jared — cared about Manafort’s ties with Russia.

The Psy-Group Presentation Suggests Online Trolls Swung Richard Burr’s State of North Carolina

The WSJ reports that Mueller’s team has obtained an analytical document from Psy-Group, the company of Joel Zamel, that was offering to help the Trump campaign both before and after the election.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators have obtained a presentation prepared by an Israel-based private intelligence firm that outlines ways in which Donald Trump’s 2016 election was helped by fake news and fake social-media accounts, according to people familiar with the presentation and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

[snip]

Psy-Group’s founder, Joel Zamel, is under scrutiny from U.S. investigators because of his close relationship with the government of the United Arab Emirates and his involvement in a meeting with Mr. Trump’s eldest son shortly before election day, the Journal has reported.

Mr. Zamel met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in the weeks before the 2016 election along with George Nader, a top adviser to the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, to discuss an offer to help boost the campaign, according to people familiar with the matter. Erik Prince, a U.S. defense contractor who specializes in the Middle East and had close ties to the campaign, attended the meeting, the Journal previously reported. People involved in the meeting say nothing came of it and the Psy-Group didn’t perform any work for the Trump campaign.

The presentation the Special Counsel is apparently scrutinizing is 9 pages; most pages describe generically how to seed bots to later swing opinion. But there’s one page that purports to show how this works in a swing state. That swing state in North Carolina.

While we can’t measure Psy-Group’s claims without a script, it seems that the group claims social media helped Trump turn a 7 point deficit in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape to a 4 point win on election day.

NC is an interesting choice because Trump also benefitted from the most aggressive voter suppression drive in the state. And because it’s the state for which Russian hacking — of VR Systems and, possibly, of poll books in disproportionately democratic precincts — may have actually affected the election.

It’s interesting for one more reason: it’s the state of Senate Intelligence Committee Chair (and Trump NatSec advisor, during the election) Richard Burr. Burr won his race by more than Trump did, but still within the scope of the swing mapped out by Psy-Group.

As I noted, the election tampering report generated by Burr’s committee, largely failed to address the vulnerability and importance of vendors like VR Systems.

Obviously, if trolls made the difference in NC, they also made the difference in PA, MI, and WI.

But we might not find that out, because the guy in charge of the purportedly responsible investigation of such things has scoped the investigation in such a way that his own re-election could not be questioned.

The White House Hid Paul Manafort’s Enthusiasm for the June 9 Meeting When Leaking Don Jr’s Email

Among the most intriguing questions Robert Mueller wants to ask the President — as interpreted by Jay Sekulow — is a subset of the one asking about Trump’s involvement in the statement about the June 9 meeting. In addition to asking about that, Mueller specifically wants to know whether Trump was involved in releasing Don Jr’s emails with Rob Goldstone setting up the meeting. Here’s how I wrote up that question in my series.

JULY 7, 2017: WHAT INVOLVEMENT DID YOU HAVE IN THE COMMUNICATION STRATEGY, INCLUDING THE RELEASE OF DONALD TRUMP JR.’S EMAILS?

I’ve laid out that I believe the evolving June 9 story is a limited hangout orchestrated by Agalarov lawyer Scott Balber. The strategy would have begun when Jared Kushner wrestled with the need to disclose the meeting, both in response to congressional investigations and for his clearance. Manafort, too, turned over emails backing the event about a month before the story came out publicly. This post talks about the response the weekend of the G-20 in Hamburg, including Ivanka sitting in on a meeting so Trump could strategize, and Hope Hicks suggesting the emails would never come out.

As a reminder, on the same day Trump had a second hour long meeting with Putin, he dictated Putin’s propaganda line that the meeting pertained to adoptions. Importantly, he hid what I’ve suggested was the quo in the quid pro quo, sanctions relief. Mueller undoubtedly would like to know if Putin helped him come up with that message, which would be really damning.

Mueller also wants to know about the decision to leak Don Jr’s emails. Bannon suspects that a Jared aide leaked the emails (his then lawyer Jamie Gorelick would cut back her work with him shortly thereafter). But remember: in a DM, Assange proposed that he give Wikileaks the email.

There’s clearly far more back story to the leaked email we don’t know yet.

If Trump’s involvement here involves coordination with Russians (like the Agalrovs, to say nothing of Putin) or Assange, it would provide damning evidence not of obstruction, but of collusion, an effort to coordinate a story about a key meeting. Trump’s lawyers have always suggested questions about Trump’s role in this statement are improper, which is itself a telling indicator that they don’t understand (or want to spin) the risk of the original June 9 meeting.

I’ve now done a first pass at all the Senate Judiciary Committee testimony released a few weeks back relating to the June 9 meeting and will update my limited hangout post hopefully over the weekend. Even assuming all witnesses were fully forthcoming (they weren’t), the SJC materials provide abundant evidence that the White House worked with the other attendees of the June 9 meeting — including the Agalarov representatives, and through them, the Agalarov family itself — to minimize the damage of the meeting. And they did it over a longer period of time than previously known.

Of particular interest, however, is a detail revealed about the email that Don Jr released last summer. Effectively, the email thread setting up the meeting appears in two places in the exhibits introduced with Don Jr’s testimony. The thread appearing at PDF 26 to 29 is for all intents and purposes the set he released over two tweets last July 11. That bears Bates stamp DJTJR 485 to 487, which designates that it was the version that Don Jr himself turned over. There’s another version of that thread, though, bearing Bates stamp DJTFP 11895 to 11897, which appears at PDF 1 to 3 in Don Jr’s exhibits (and is used for all the other witnesses). The Bates stamp abbreviation DJTFP, Donald J Trump for President, indicates that that’s the version turned over by the campaign. The exhibit shows the same thread, only with this addition.

That is, after Don Jr informed Jared and Paul Manafort that the meeting would be at 4 instead of 3, Manafort responded, “See you then.”

That — and the fact that Don Jr chose to suppress it when publicly releasing his email — is not by itself damning. Nor is the fact that Don Jr tried to suggest that both Jared and Manafort had no idea what the meeting was about in his public statement.

I told Rob that Jared Kushner and our newly hired campaign manager Paul Manafort would likely also attend . I then asked Jared and Paul if they could attend, but told them none of the substance or who was going to be there since I did not know myself. Because we were in the same building Paul, Jared, and I would routinely invite one another to attend meetings at a moment’s notice.

When Democratic Chief Oversight Counsel Heather Sawyer asked Don Jr about which version he released publicly, Don Jr’s (actually, the Trump Organization’s) lawyer Alan Futerfas immediately butted in to offer an excuse about multiple custodians.

MR. FUTERFAS: Just so the record’s clear, there were multiple custodians to this e-mail. So if the campaign  produced an e-mail the campaign may have because different custodians were being searched. We have found that there was — I think there was a few words that are additional to Exhibit 10, including the “See you then,” and I think we also found earlier one there was another again, another similar kind of brief exchange, but I think that was a function of the different custodians that were participating in this little dialogue .

After which Sawyer first noted that that other change might be discussed off the record, then questioned the President’s son about how he chose which email to release. Futerfas interrupted again to note that counsel had been involved.

BY MS . SAWYER: Q. We can talk off the record about the other change, but with regard to the document that was produced to the committee, Exhibit 10, to the best of your knowledge, is that the full exchange?

A . Well, whichever one is the longer I believe is the full exchange. I don’t know, but I’m not aware of anything else.

Q. Has it been altered in any way?

A. No.

Q. Have any of the communications been removed by anyone?

A. Not that I’m aware of, no.

Q. You released a version of the e-mail by Twitter. How did you decide what version of the e-mail chain to release?

A. I don ‘t know. It’s the version I pulled up.

Q. And did you consult with anyone in deciding to do that?

MR . FUTERFAS: Aside from counsel?

MS. SAWYER : Yes, aside from counsel.

BY THE WITNESS: A. All those conversations counsel was involved.

Interjection: note that Don Jr doesn’t claim that only counsel was involved? Continuing …

Q. Okay. And did you seek their advice?

A. Counsel?

Q. Yes.

A. Yes.

Q. And who was representing you?

A. The two gentlemen here, Alan Garten and Alan Futerfas.

Q. And they were representing you personally?

A. Yes, I believe so.

MR. FUTERFAS: Yes .

BY MS . SAWYER: Q. And they were involved in all the conversations you had about release of that e-mail?

A. Yes, they were.

In other words, Don Jr and Futerfas suggested — Hope Hicks’ publicly reported central role as a go-between notwithstanding — that any conversations he had about which version of the email to release were protected by Attorney-Client privilege.

Don Jr’s decision, taken on the advice of his counsel, to withhold the Manafort email is why I find it very interesting that Don Jr twice testified that he only discussed the meeting with Jared and Manafort via email, and repeatedly denied talking to Manafort directly about it.

Q. You got an e-mail with a title “Russia- Clinton, private and confidential,” you didn’t mention that to Paul Manafort?

A . Other that I forwarded the e-mail to him to invite them to the meet ing, I didn’t discuss it with him to my recollection, no.

Q. And you said you forwarded it. That was the only time you recall discussing it with him?

A . That’s the only time I recall , yes.

Q. And Exhibit 1 which you reviewed with my colleagues indicates that you forwarded it on June 8, 201 6 . At that point there’s just a reference to “Meeting got moved to 4:00 tomorrow at my office,” Mr . Manafort responds ” See you then.” Had you not discussed the meeting with him before that time?

A. I don ‘t recall discussing it with him at that time, but I may have.

Q. How would he have known what this meeting was about i f you had not discussed it with him?

A. I don ‘t know.

Q. Did he ever ask you about it?

A. Not that I recall.

[snip]

Q. Did you tell Mr . Manafort [about the ultra-sensitive email]?

A. As I said, I don’t recall telling him anything about it other than the exchange as it relates to setting up the meeting.

After having denied talking to Kushner and Manafort about the meeting (and forgetting another call from Emin Agalarov), Don Jr tried to play dumb about a phone call he had with Manafort on June 7, between the time he had that forgotten call with Agalarov and the time Rob Goldstone wrote to schedule the meeting at 4:20PM.

Q. The next unblocked — unredacted call is a call at 4:07 p.m., it says “Arlington , VA” and has a 703 number. You indicated to my colleagues you didn’t recall who that was. Is that the case?

A. I don’t know who it is now, no, I don’t.

Q. Would you be surprised if I told you that a Google search shows that’s Paul Manafort’s number?

A. I don’t know. It may be.

Q. You don’t recall speaking with him on June 7th?

A. No, I don’t recall that.

Q. You don’t recall speaking to him that day about this meeting?

A. No, I don’t.

Q. Or the e-mail from Mr. Goldstone ?

A. No. I spoke to Paul quite often.

Nor did Don Jr remember calls he had with Jared and Manafort on June 5, the day before he spoke with Emin about the meeting by phone.

Q. Then just to take you back a page on this same exhibit to [Bates stamp] 854, just go back one page.

A. Okay.

Q. You’ll see “Sunday, 6/5” at the bottom of that page.

A. Yes.

Q. And as I indicated to you earlier, you got the e-mail from Mr. Goldstone on a Friday.

On Sunday there are two calls that have been unredacted. One’s at 4:28 to Arlington, Virginia, same number, Mr. Manafort’s number. Do you recall speaking to him on that Sunday?

A. I don’t, no.

Q. Do you know if you spoke to him possibly on that Sunday about Mr. Goldstone’s e-mail or that meeting?

A. No. I don’t recall having those conversations.

Q. About 15 minutes later there’s another call to New York, New York, 917. Do you know whose number that is?

A . I could probably find out, but I don’t know off the top of my head.

Q. If I told you that a search of — a Google search of that indicates that it’s Mr. Kushner’s number, would that surprise you?

A . No.

Q. And do you recall speaking with him on that Sunday?

A. No, I don’t.

As a reminder, Mueller’s team raided Paul Manafort’s house between the time he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the day he was supposed to testify before SJC; the warrant for that raid covered materials about the June 9 meeting. The raid gave Manafort an excuse not to answer questions about whether he remembers the substance of those calls. Remember, too, that Manafort is trying to suppress the seizure of devices — like iPods — that can be used to record meetings.

And Robert Mueller wants to know whether the President was involved in the decision to hide Paul Manafort’s enthusiasm for this meeting.

On Credico and Stone and Hillary’s Purported Libya Email

WSJ has an underreported story revealing that Roger Stone emailed Randy Credico seeking specific emails from Wikileaks in September 2016.

Former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone privately sought information he considered damaging to Hillary Clinton from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The emails could raise new questions about Mr. Stone’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in September, in which he said he “merely wanted confirmation” from an acquaintance that Mr. Assange had information about Mrs. Clinton, according to a portion of the transcript that was made public.

In a Sept. 18, 2016, message, Mr. Stone urged an acquaintance who knew Mr. Assange to ask the WikiLeaks founder for emails related to Mrs. Clinton’s alleged role in disrupting a purported Libyan peace deal in 2011 when she was secretary of state, referring to her by her initials.

“Please ask Assange for any State or HRC e-mail from August 10 to August 30–particularly on August 20, 2011,” Mr. Stone wrote to Randy Credico, a New York radio personality who had interviewed Mr. Assange several weeks earlier. Mr. Stone, a longtime confidant of Donald Trump, had no formal role in his campaign at the time.

I say it’s underreported for two reasons: as presented, WSJ doesn’t really explain why this is news. It doesn’t show that the emails were responsive to HPSCI’s request, a point made by Stone’s attorney in the story and not refuted by Adam Schiff. Furthermore, Credico claims he never really asked Julian Assange for any emails (which may be one of the reasons Stone’s lawyer deems the exchange unresponsive). Schiff claims that this exchange suggests Stone was misleading at best in his testimony.

Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the emails hadn’t been provided to congressional investigators. “If there is such a document, then it would mean that his testimony was either deliberately incomplete or deliberately false,” said Mr. Schiff, who has continued to request documents and conduct interviews with witnesses despite the committee’s probe concluding earlier this year said.

But for reasons I’ll explain, I think Stone may have been technically correct in his statement.

Another way the story is underreported is because WSJ doesn’t explain — or even consider — what emails Stone might be talking about, a silence that has led sloppy readers to assume these are a reference to known hacked emails.

The email may be a reference to emails believed by some to be hacked!

But absent any explanation what the emails are, they should be assumed to be the emails released by State in response to Jason Leopold and others, which Wikileaks only curated. There are several that might fit Stone’s criteria, including some of the ones based on intelligence from Sid Blumenthal that drove the nutters crazy.

That said, the withheld emails may be newsworthy for reasons WSJ doesn’t lay out.

First, consider the fact that as part of Don Jr’s SJC interview, he was asked about people who may have been involved in the Peter Smith effort to find Hillary’s deleted emails, from Russian hackers if need be. The last person included was Stone.

Q. Did you or anyone else make any effort to obtain Hillary Clinton’s e-mails?

A. No.

Q. Did you or anyone else ever receive Hillary Clinton’s e-mails other than something that might have been publicly published ?

A. No.

Q. Do you know who Peter Smith is?

A. No .

Q. Were you aware of Mr. Smith’ s efforts to obtain Hillary Clinton’s  e-mails?

A. I don’t recall knowing Peter Smith. So I’m not aware of his efforts. Who was he?

Q. There’s been public reporting on him. So it’s in the press.

A. Okay. I haven’t seen it.

Q. Do you know if any of the following people made any efforts to obtain Secretary Clinton’s e-mails. Michael Flynn?

A. I don’t know.

Q. Steve Bannon?

A. I don ‘t know.

Q. Kellyanne Conway?

A. I don’t know.

Q. Sam Clovis?

A. I don ‘t know.

Q. Carter Page?

A. I don’t know.

Q. Roger Stone ?

A. No idea.

We shouldn’t necessarily make that much of the fact that Stone appears on this list, both because no one on it has been confirmed to have been involved in Smith’s efforts, and because he’d be the most likely person to be involved in any case. Nor do I make too much out of the fact that Don Jr answered differently on Stone — “no idea” — than the “I don’t know” he offered for everyone else.

That said, this does seem to confirm Stone is among the people alleged to be involved in the effort.

The Peter Smith operation is something Stone assiduously avoided addressing in his statement to Congress.

Now consider that on August 10, 2016, Stone tweeted, “Assange, you see has all the @HillaryClinton e-mails @HumaAbedin thought she and @CherylMills erased #busted.” (Thanks to Susan Simpson for noting that Stone’s deleted account can be found and searched on the Trump Twitter Archive site.) That tweet would have fallen right between the time Stone told Sam Nunberg he had been speaking with Assange on August 5 and the time he started chatting via DM with Guccifer 2.0 on August 14. That’s also the timeframe Matt Tait said Smith reached out having already received emails from someone on the Dark Web. 

A few weeks later, right around the time the DNC emails were dumped by Wikileaks—and curiously, around the same time Trump called for the Russians to get Hillary Clinton’s missing emails—I was contacted out the blue by a man named Peter Smith, who had seen my work going through these emails. Smith implied that he was a well-connected Republican political operative.

[snip]

Smith had not contacted me about the DNC hack, but rather about his conviction that Clinton’s private email server had been hacked—in his view almost certainly both by the Russian government and likely by multiple other hackers too—and his desire to ensure that the fruits of those hacks were exposed prior to the election. Over the course of a long phone call, he mentioned that he had been contacted by someone on the “Dark Web” who claimed to have a copy of emails from Secretary Clinton’s private server, and this was why he had contacted me; he wanted me to help validate whether or not the emails were genuine.

When Smith couldn’t validate the emails he had received, he had the hackers themselves forward them to WikiLeaks.

Mr. Smith said after vetting batches of emails offered to him by hacker groups last fall, he couldn’t be sure enough of their authenticity to leak them himself. “We told all the groups to give them to WikiLeaks,” he said. WikiLeaks has never published those emails or claimed to have them.

All of which is to say that, if Stone was involved in this effort, he may have known emails pertaining to Libya (perhaps forgeries written to fit into the known, officially released ones) had gotten forwarded to WikiLeaks as early as August. In which case his nudge to Credico the next month may have been an effort to flush out the emails he believed to be in WikiLeaks’ possession.

Which would mean his response to Congress — that Stone was just looking for confirmation WikiLeaks had materials he thought they did — would be technically accurate.

There’s one other detail of interest in the WSJ story. Credico, like Stone, has not been interviewed by Mueller’s team. And like Stone, absent a direct interview, Credico appears to be trying to make his case in the public sphere.

Messrs. Stone and Credico said they haven’t been contacted by Mr. Mueller’s office, which declined to comment.

[snip]

After earlier asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the House probe, Mr. Credico now says he is willing to talk with investigators. He said he met on Wednesday with the committee’s Democratic staff members for what he called a limited conversation about WikiLeaks, the 2016 campaign and Mr. Stone.

As Mr. Credico has become more vocal about what he says are discrepancies in Mr. Stone’s account, Mr. Stone has responded with a series of threats, according to emails and text messages reviewed by the Journal.

In early April, in one of those emails, Mr. Stone accused Mr. Credico of serving as an informant.

“Everyone says u are wearing a wire for Mueller,” the April 7 email said. Two days later, Mr. Stone wrote: “Run your mouth = get sued.” Mr. Credico denies being an informant.

It’s possible that Stone was using Credico as a go-between to try to confirm what he already knew, to pressure WikiLeaks to release documents he and his rat-fucking associates had planted there.

Which might make the withheld emails far more newsworthy.

Update: Because there was some confusion, I’ve added more of the Don Jr transcript to make the context clear.

A Thinking Person’s Guide to the Stefan Halper Conspiracy Theory

For some time, I’ve been agnostic about whether Chuck Ross’ series on Stefan Halper derived from his own discussions with George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, and Sam Clovis, or whether he relied on leaks from HPSCI.

Today, he gave one of the leading comments he often does, about Paul Ryan’s claimed concern about “FISA abuse.” (Ryan, remember, pushed through 702 reauthorization this year without reforming a single one of the abuses laid out in this report, but apparently Chuck’s gonna play along with the notion that Ryan gives a shit about FISA.)

That mirrors Ross’ own logically nonsensical focus on the dossier as a source for the Carter Page FISA order in conjunction with Halper. Which, especially since other journalists are making it clear the Halper focus is coming from Hill Republicans, suggests Ross was getting leaks from Republicans.

That’s even more true of this interview with Sam Clovis. In it, Clovis makes it very clear the meeting did not stick out in his memory.

It was an academic meeting. It was not anything other than him talking about the research that he had done on China.

[snip]

No indication or inclination that this was anything other than just wanting to offer up his help to the campaign if I needed it.

After describing how he hadn’t opened up attachments Halper sent later in the month, he said, “that is how little this registered with me.”

And yet, somehow, by March, someone had told Ross about this meeting.

Halper also requested and attended a one-on-one meeting with another senior campaign official, TheDCNF learned. That meeting was held a day or two before Halper reached out to Papadopoulos. Halper offered to help the campaign but did not bring up Papadopoulos, even though he would reach out to the campaign aide a day or two later.

Clovis seems to derive his memory of the meeting, in significant part, from the documentation he does (four emails setting the meeting up) and doesn’t (any notes) have about it.

There’s a record of the exchange of emails that we had, four emails to set the appointment.

[snip]

I had my notebook. Always take notes and always keep track of what’s going on. And there wasn’t anything — I didn’t have any notes on the meeting cause there must not have been anything substantive that took place.

That suggests someone knew to go back to look for communications involving Halper. Now, if HPSCI requested all the comms campaign aides had with investigative target Carter Page, then Clovis would have turned over these emails (which mentioned Page but probably discussed China, not Russia), and HPSCI staffers could have found the tie. If HPSCI only asked for Russia-related comms involving Page, then someone got Toensing or Clovis to search for Halper emails themselves.

Clovis explains that he’s bothered, now, about the meeting because he thinks he was used as an excuse to reach out to George Papadopoulos.

He had met with Carter Page. He had used that to get the bona fides to get an appointment with me.

[snip]

Then I think he used my meeting as bona fides to get a meeting with George Papadopoulos.

Remember, one of the inane complaints in the Nunes memo is that the Carter Page FISA application mentioned Papadopoulos.

The Schiff memo explains that Papadopoulos got mentioned because, after Alexander Downer told the FBI that Papadopoulos had told him the Russians were going to release Hillary emails to help Trump, they opened a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign.

In other words, the frothy right likely believes, like Clovis, that Halper was networking as a way to get to Papadopoulos, and that in some way ties to the FISA application against Page.

And he may well have done so! As TPM clarifies some confusion created by WaPo, both Page, Clovis, and Clovis lawyer Victoria Toensing agree that Halper mentioned Page when he reached out to Clovis.

Clovis’ lawyer, Victoria Toensing, previously said, according to the Washington Post that the informant had not mentioned his other Trump contacts when reaching out to Clovis. Clovis said he wasn’t sure “where she got that information,”since she had access to the emails setting up the September 2016 meeting.

Toensing, in an phone interview Tuesday with TPM, backed up Clovis’ account. She told TPM that the informant had said in an email to Clovis that Page had recommended that they meet. She also claimed that the informant had told Page when they met at the conference that he was a big fan of Clovis’. Page confirmed Toensing’s account in an email to TPM.

Halper met with Clovis on September 1 and then reached out to Papadopoulos the next day.

Though note: Page says Halper raised Clovis at the July conference where they met, a meeting that occurred before dossier reports started getting back to FBI (particularly to the people investigating the hack-and-leak) and before the Papadopoulos report. That either suggests the FBI already had concerns about Clovis by then, or Halper was more generally networking with Page along with checking out someone who had been a live counterintelligence concern in his own right since March and for years beforehand.

Here’s where things start to go off the rails for this whole conspiracy theory, though. Clovis (who, remember, testified to Mueller’s team in the days before Papadopoulos’ cooperation agreement was unsealed, and who therefore may have his own false statements to worry about) believes that the FBI had no business trying to ask Papadopoulos about his April knowledge of Russians dealing Clinton emails in a way that would not arouse Papadopoulos’ suspicion.

What unsettled me … is what he tried to do with George Papadopoulos and that was to establish an audit trail from the campaign or somebody associated with the campaign back to those Clinton emails, whether or not they existed we don’t know.

Clovis believes, as does the entire frothy right, that the FBI had no reason to check out leads from someone who predicted the Russians would leak dirt from Hillary to help Trump a month before it became publicly known.

What were they investigating? To be investigating, there has to be some indication of a crime. And there does not appear to have been any indication for a crime. And by the way the Fourth Amendment protects you in your place and your person from investigation without a clear indication of what, uh, probable cause.

Somehow, Clovis conveniently forgets that stealing emails is a crime. And the FBI had been investigating that crime since June 2016, a month before learning that Papadopoulos might have known about the stolen emails before the FBI itself did.

In other words, at the core of this entire conspiracy theory (on top of pretending that Carter Page wasn’t already a counterintelligence concern in March, as all the designated GOP stenographers do) is the GOP fantasy that the FBI had no business trying to chase down why Papadopoulos knew of the theft before the DNC itself did.

And they’re making an enormous case out of the fact that FBI used Halper — a lifelong Republican to whom Papadopoulos could and did lie to without legal jeopardy — to interview someone Clovis claims was “ancillary” to the campaign at the time.

It’s also clear to me that they misread George’s relationship with the campaign entirely, so, because he was not, he was ancillary at best at that point.

So that appears to be where this is heading: an attempt to criminalize a Republican networking with a goal of learning whether George Papadopoulos, and through him, Sam Clovis and the rest of the campaign, committed what Papadopoulos himself has said (though this is legally incorrect) might amount to treason.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: the GOP doesn’t think Russian theft of Democratic emails was a crime and therefore doesn’t think FBI had reason to investigate Papadopoulos’ apparent foreknowledge of that crime.

George Papadopoulos Was Trying to Hide Evidence He Thought Might Amount to Treason When He Lied to the FBI

Chuck Ross’ description of a September 2016 conversation between Stefan Halper and George Papadopoulos has evolved over the course of his reporting on it. In March, he described it this way:

According to a source with knowledge of the meeting, Halper asked Papadopoulos: “George, you know about hacking the emails from Russia, right?”

Papadopoulos told Halper he didn’t know anything about emails or Russian hacking, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. The professor did not follow up on the line of inquiry.

In his next story on the exchange, Ross described it this way:

Sources familiar with Papadopoulos’s version of their meetings said Halper randomly asked Papadopoulos whether he knew about Democratic National Committee emails that had been hacked and leaked by Russians.

Papadopoulos strongly denied the allegation, sources familiar with his version of the exchange have told TheDCNF. Halper grew agitated and pressed Papadopoulos on the topic. Papadopoulos believes that Halper was recording him during some of their interactions, sources said.

The very next day, here’s how Ross described it:

During one of their dinners, Halper asked Papadopoulos whether he was involved in the Russian theft of Democrats’ emails, sources familiar with Papadopoulos’ account have told TheDCNF. Papadopoulos denied the allegation, saying that stealing emails would be treason.

Halper grew frustrated, according to sources.

This is the first story in this series where Ross describes what Papadopoulos pled guilty to, but he gets it wrong in a key way I’ll describe below.

Finally, Ross offers yet another description in a new story today.

Sources familiar with Papadopoulos’ version of events say that during one conversation, Halper asked Papadopoulos whether he was involved in the release of DNC emails. Papadopoulos denied it, telling Halper that hacking emails would be treason. Halper grew frustrated, according to the sources.

Today’s story claims we don’t know what Alexander Downer told FBI. We do know one detail he omitted: That Downer told the FBI that Papadopoulos told him Mifsud said the Russians were going to release the emails to help Trump.

Now, as I said, in yesterday’s story, Ross described the substance of the lies Papadopoulos told the FBI slightly wrong.

Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the timing of his encounters with Mifsud and two Russian nationals. He did, however, tell the FBI in his initial interviews that Mifsud mentioned Clinton documents.

Ross leans on his misunderstanding of Papadopoulos’ guilty plea to argue today that FBI should have interviewed Papadopoulos back in August, rather than ask a lifelong Republican to ask the same questions while hiding the FBI interest.

Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to the special counsel’s office for lying to the FBI during that interview. As part of his plea deal, Papadopoulos admitted he lied about the timing of his interactions with two Russian nationals and a Maltese professor named Joseph Mifsud. Papadopoulos initially told FBI agents that the contacts occurred prior to joining the Trump campaign when, in fact, they occurred after he learned that he would be joining the Trump campaign in March 2016.

FBI defenders could point to Papadopoulos’ deception in the January 2017 interview to argue that he would have lied had he been questioned earlier in Crossfire Hurricane. But that argument is undercut by what else Papadopoulos said in his FBI interview.

According to a statement of offense Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed, Papadopoulos told FBI agents that Mifsud mentioned the stolen Clinton emails.

And sources familiar with Papadopoulos’s version of the FBI interview say he claims that he, and not the FBI agents, first mentioned Mifsud during the interview, which was conducted in Chicago without lawyers present.

That is, Ross argues that because Papadopoulos offered up that he met a weird guy named Mifsud who told him the Russians were offering dirt in the form of Hillary emails, he could be trusted to have been honest had the FBI asked him in August.

As I said, though, Ross’ first description of Papadopoulos’ guilty plea is wrong in several ways. Ross hides how important Papadopoulos said Mifsud seemed; the FBI describes Papadopoulos claiming Mifsud was just BSing. The former Trump aide similarly denied having any relationship with the Russian woman Mifsud introduced him to. Both those details make Papadopoulos’ lies about the timing more important: he lied about how important he believed these two were and he lied about the way their outreach to him tied to his role on the campaign.

In Ross’ first description of his plea, however, he suggested that Papadopoulos affirmatively lied “about the timing of his encounters with Mifsud and two Russian nationals,” the second of whom we know to be Ivan Timofeev. That’s wrong. In the first interview, Papadopoulos (successfully) hid the entire existence of Timofeev. That’s key because Papadopoulos was forwarding communications from Timofeev, a Russian official, talking about setting up meetings with campaign officials. He was forwarding these emails to the campaign in the weeks leading up to the June 9 meeting. Indeed, Papadopoulos told Timofeev that Trump’s first campaign speech was a sign that the candidate was willing to meet. By hiding Timofeev, Papadopoulos was hiding high level campaign knowledge of the outreach (including Paul Manafort).

Ross fails to mention another damning thing the purportedly forthcoming Papadopoulos did the day after his second FBI interview: delete his Facebook account, and with it his communications with Timofeev, and get a new cell phone, presumably destroying secure communications.

There is no way Papadopoulos would have been any more honest with FBI in August 2016 than he was in January.

And if the third and fourth version of Ross’ description of the Halper-Papadopoulos exchange is any indication, then it’s very clear why Papadopoulos would have always lied about the communications: because he considered the very same kind of back and forth with Russians tied to the email release treason.

Papadopoulos was trying to cover up evidence he thought might prove treason.

The Flynn Conspiracy Call Is Coming from Inside the [White] House

Maggie and Mike have another of their “scoops” where they repeat what Trump’s lawyers tell them uncritically. In addition to mis-reporting the import of an alleged Mueller comment that he would release a report describing Trump’s obstruction within 2 months of mid-terms, the piece describes some letters Trump’s lawyers sent DOJ in an attempt to exonerate Trump. Among the topics addressed in the letters was whether it was obstruction for Trump to fire Comey because he wouldn’t stop the investigation into Mike Flynn.

The lawyers did not say whether Mr. Trump had asked for an end to the Flynn investigation. But their letters cited statements by the White House that denied Mr. Comey’s account.

The lawyers also argued that Mr. Trump could not have impeded the investigation because there was no inquiry to obstruct. The letter said that the F.B.I. had concluded that Mr. Flynn had not committed a crime when he told agents in January 2017 that he did not discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the transition, an assertion later found to be false.

The lawyers said that law enforcement officials had told the White House that the bureau did not believe Mr. Flynn had lied. “For all intents, purposes and appearances, the F.B.I. had accepted Flynn’s account; concluded that he was confused but truthful; decided not to investigate him further; and let him retain his clearance,” the letters said.

It is not clear what basis his lawyers have for those assertions. Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty in December to lying to investigators and is cooperating with the special counsel inquiry.

The letters also said that Mr. Comey had told Congress in a closed-door briefing in March 2017 that Mr. Flynn had not lied to the F.B.I. in the interview and was merely confused. Mr. Comey said last month on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that that assertion was not accurate.

On top of revealing that Trump’s lawyers apparently do not deny that Trump asked Comey to back off the Flynn investigation (even if they contest Comey’s take more generally), these letters make it clear that a conspiracy the frothy right has adopted lately — that Flynn should never have been investigated — is coming from inside the White House.

That scoop is useful, then, for making it clear where dumb propaganda (and Congressional pushback)  is originating.

But Maggie and Mike barely mention how obviously problematic the Trump story is. Trump’s lawyers apparently argued to DOJ that the Trump couldn’t have obstructed any investigation by firing Comey because, “there was no inquiry to obstruct.” They support that claim by stating, “Mr. Comey had told Congress in a closed-door briefing in March 2017 that Mr. Flynn had not lied to the F.B.I. in the interview and was merely confused.”

Never mind that this claim ignores that there was already a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn when he was incidentally collected assuring Sergey Kislyak that the Trump Administration would work with Russia on sanctions. That investigation was premised on events that included a meeting with Kislyak in the Ambassador’s private residence in 2015, in advance of his trip to the big RT shindig, that Flynn’s spawn considered “very productive.”

But per the HPSCI Russia report, it’s a misstatement of what Comey actually told Congress in March 2017. That report says,

Director Comey testified to the Committee that “the agents … discerned no physical indications of deception. They didn’t see any change in posture, in tone, in inflection, in eye contact. They saw nothing that indicated to them that he knew he was lying to them.”

Indeed, the White House version doesn’t even cohere with the story spun by Chuck Grassley in a recent effort to grill an FBI agent involved.

According to that agent’s contemporaneous notes, Director Comey specifically told us during that briefing that the FBI agents who interviewed Lt. General Michael Flynn, “saw nothing that led them to believe [he was] lying.” Our own Committee staff’s notes indicate that Mr. Comey said the “agents saw no change in his demeanor or tone that would say he was being untruthful.”

In both versions offered by very partisan Republicans, the FBI agents talked about physical signs of deceit. The HPSCI report goes on to make clear that the same agents also recognized Flynn’s statements in the interview were “inconsistent” with the call intercept.

Yet somehow Trump’s lawyers decided to claim to DOJ that FBI concluded Flynn was just confused, a claim that apparently conflicts with evidence from at least 5 current or former DOJ employees currently unaffiliated with the Mueller probe, including Sally Yates, from whom the White House first obtained information about the Flynn interview.

There’s a lot more that’s crazy about Trump’s lawyers’ efforts to invent a story inconsistent with all known records. First, relying on a still classified HPSCI report makes it crystal clear (as if it wasn’t already) that HPSCI is sharing classified information with the White House. The logic of this claim is that Comey’s contemporaneous spoken statements to numerous DOJ officials should be dismissed but his spoken statements to Congress are credible. Leaking this story makes it clear that the White House is behind the worst conspiracies floating among the far right.

But, if the NYT portrayal of the letter is accurate, it also shows that in an attempt to explain away Trump’s actions, the White House is inventing facts. Inventing easily checked facts seems like a really curious strategy to proclaim someone’s innocence.

Nunes Outraged that [American] Spies Paid to Brush Up against Trump Aides

I just saw this Devin Nunes quote, from a WaPo story on the fight over releasing details on Stefan Halper investigative activities into the infiltration of Trump’s campaign by Russian assets.

Nunes said he and his colleagues have been troubled by reports and indications that sources may have been repeatedly reaching out to Trump campaign members and even offering aides money to encourage them to meet. The president, he said, has ample reason to be angry and suspicious.

“If you are paying somebody to come talk to my campaign or brush up against my campaign, whatever you call it, I’d be furious,” Nunes said.

The reference to “paying somebody” is presumably a reference to Halper paying George Papadopoulos $3,000 for research as a way to get an opportunity to ask, in a possibly recorded phone call, about the DNC emails.

As TheDCNF reported back in March, Halper contacted Papadopoulos through email on Sept. 2, 2016, offering to fly him to London to discuss writing a policy paper about energy issues in Turkey, Israel and Cyprus. Halper offered to pay $3,000 for the paper.

Papadopoulos made the trip and had dinner multiple times with Halper and a Turkish woman described as his assistant. Sources familiar with Papadopoulos’s version of their meetings said Halper randomly asked Papadopoulos whether he knew about Democratic National Committee emails that had been hacked and leaked by Russians.

Papadopoulos strongly denied the allegation, sources familiar with his version of the exchange have told TheDCNF. Halper grew agitated and pressed Papadopoulos on the topic. Papadopoulos believes that Halper was recording him during some of their interactions, sources said.

Halper’s assistant, who is named Azra Turk, brought up Russians and emails over drinks with Papadopoulos. Turk also flirted heavily with Papadopoulos and attempted to meet him in Chicago, where he lives, a source told TheDCNF.

I’d be curious to see Papadopoulos’ notoriously inflated resume to see whether he included the research project on it after he completed it.

That Nunes thinks Trump should be outraged about this one incident is particularly notable, given that neither Nunes nor anyone else running cover for the Trump administration has ever expressed similar outrage about all the Trump aides that other countries were dangling money and other goods to brush up against. Those include (and this list is far from comprehensive):

  • Russian academics paying Carter Page to speak in Moscow
  • A pro-Russian Syrian group paying Don Jr to speak in Paris
  • Multiple Russian banks floating massive amounts of support to Jared
  • Russia’s RT paying Mike Flynn to appear at an event with Putin
  • Turkish pass-throughs paying Flynn to make a movie
  • Saudi, Israeli, and Emirati sources offering campaign assistance
  • Oleg Deripaska offering to forgive Paul Manafort’s $20 million debt for updates on the Trump campaign
  • Russians offering dirt on Hillary to get a meeting with Trump’s campaign manager, son, and son-in-law

I mean, even the Carter Page Moscow trip was more lucrative than the Papadopoulos research. And the other valuable things offered to campaign aides, by spooked-up sources from a range of countries, were tens or millions of dollars more valuable than what Halper offered, usually without any legit purpose tied to it.

And yet the only intelligence source that Nunes has expressed any outrage about — the only one! — is one associated with the United States, a person with long ties to the Republican party.

I mean, maybe Nunes is just dumb and doesn’t understand the stance he has now publicly adopted. Maybe he didn’t mean to say the only spies who shouldn’t be able to test whether Trump aides were willing to sell information for a price are American spies.

But thus far, the only lucrative outreach by spies that Nunes has objected to are American ones.

Does Devin Nunes’ Unmasking Pseudo-Scandal Betray Knowledge of the “Collusion” with the Saudis and Emirates?

When Mike Flynn’s plea deal revealed that he lied about efforts to stave off criticism of Israel’s illegal settlements, I noted that that (and the efforts to cozy up to Saudi Arabia and UAE) was what the unmasking panic was probably about.

The most public confirmed unmasking involved Susan Rice discovering that Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan had a secret meeting with Flynn, Kushner, and Bannon in NY.

Former national security adviser Susan Rice privately told House investigators that she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year, multiple sources told CNN.

The New York meeting preceded a separate effort by the UAE to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House.
The crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, arrived in New York last December in the transition period before Trump was sworn into office for a meeting with several top Trump officials, including Michael Flynn, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his top strategist Steve Bannon, sources said.

But we now know that there would be intercepts between Netanyahu and Kushner leading up to it.

I wouldn’t even be surprised if the Republicans are so certain they’ve been unmasked because Israel has their own way of discovering such things.

I’ve laid out how Jared Kushner’s “peace” “plan” really is just an attempt to remap the Middle East to the interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia, interests which require significantly more belligerence against Iran than Obama showed. The unmasked discussions would include the ones that preceded Kushner’s order to Flynn to try to undercut the resolution, as well as whatever else Kushner discussed with Netanyahu at the time.

Today’s NYT scoop revealing that the Trump campaign colluded not just with Russians, but also Saudis, Emirates, and Israelis explain why the discovery of the later meetings was so dangerous: because it would reveal other efforts Trump made to sell out American foreign policy.

Three months before the 2016 election, a small group gathered at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. One was an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. Another was an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Republican donor with a controversial past in the Middle East as a private security contractor.

The meeting was convened primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months — past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office, according to several people with knowledge of their encounters.

Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the crown princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The social media specialist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company’s ability to give an edge to a political campaign; by that time, the firm had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.

[snip]

It is unclear whether such a proposal was executed, and the details of who commissioned it remain in dispute. But Donald Trump Jr. responded approvingly, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting, and after those initial offers of help, Mr. Nader was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers — meeting frequently with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Michael T. Flynn, who became the president’s first national security adviser.

This puts the unmasking panic — and Devin Nunes’ role in it — in entirely new light. It’s not just that Seychelles meeting in the transition period — it’s this earlier meeting, where a bunch of autocrats got the candidate’s son to agree to collude on the election.

Which makes me wonder, how would Trump Transition Official Devin Nunes know that? When Nunes manufactured a totally bogus unmasking scandal, did he know of these earlier meetings showing illegal collusion?

Update: I realize, now, that Nunes’ unmasking panic may actually have served as a giant red flag for Mueller that there were aspects of the Trump team’s dealings with UAE and Israel that were of acute concern to the team. Well done Devin!

Re: The Bogus Manafort Challenge To Mueller’s Jurisdiction

I said from the outset that the Manafort challenges to Mueller’s authority, both in DC District and Eastern District of Virginia were bogus and ill taken. Not that his attorneys should be faulted for protecting that record for later appeal, that is simply what decent criminal defense lawyers do. But the siamesed motions were never the compelling “legitimate question” the press made them out to be. Even taking into account the cantankerous probing of Judge T.S. Ellis in EDVA at oral argument on May 4, 2018, the claims of Manafort, and later blithely parroted by Trump that same day, Manafort’s arguments were discredited by Dreeben’s argument. Even at that hearing, that Trump Parroted, Judge Ellis indicated there could well not exist a convincing argument in the long run.

Well, okay. We still don’t know how Judge Ellis will rule, but we do now know how Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled on pretty much the identical argument in DDC. Her decision was handed down yesterday.

This was a spanking of Manafort’s dismissal motion, from top to bottom. On every prong, and at every turn, Berman Jackson dismissed Manafort’s arguments. She even went so far as to opine that Mueller would have been effectively derelict not to have pursued these matters. The matter will proceed to trial in DDC, before Judge Berman Jackson, currently set for September 7, 2018.

So, that leaves the EDVA matter in front of the aforementioned cantankerous Judge Ellis. The decision by Berman Jackson will have to weigh heavily on Ellis as he drafts his decision on the parallel arguments in EDVA. Despite all the probing and disdain Ellis displayed at oral argument on May 4, Ellis is famous for just that. Over decades. Ellis could certainly find differently than Berman Jackson, that is his prerogative, but it is hard to see how he is going to. First off, the facts, pleadings and scope of authority demonstrated by Mueller, via Dreeben, simply do not warrant it. But, secondly, there is now a marker by Berman Jackson. Judge T.S. Ellis III may be commonly known as cantankerous, but he is not commonly known as a fool.

We shall see, but if I were Paul Manafort, I would not be sleeping easy. And Trump might want to stop cackling. So, enjoy the decision by Berman Jackson, it is worth the read if you are interested. And it is exactly why a few of us here were more than skeptical of Manafort’s motions.

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